While my mom was a truly wonderful cook, it was my dad who was the serious food adventurer. He would come home from the office at the end of the day excited because he’d discovered some new ethnic restaurant—which may not sound all that remarkable now, but in the late 1950s through the 1960s, this was not the norm for most families. My mom was from Chicago, and she’d grown up going to Chinatown, but my dad was from St. Petersburg, Florida, where he’d grown up eating Cuban, African American, and Spanish foods. Then he went to North Africa and the Middle East with World War II, where he sampled every local food available. He returned home a dedicated pursuer of culinary alternatives.
While we were certainly not the only people eating outside the mainstream, our habits were not common. Sometimes, the things I took to school for lunch got me strange looks and unkind comments. But I didn’t care, because by the time I was in grade school, I was already a convert to international dining.
Dad could cook, too (most happily on his Weber kettle, where he turned out marvelous lamb shish kabob on a regular basis), and he and mom even joined forces with the rare couple who shared their interests to prepare dishes that took a full day of construction (especially Mexican food: enchiladas or chiles rellenos) However, dad was especially delighted when he found a new place to dine.
One day, returning from the office (walking from the train station, as most men in our suburb did), he burst through the kitchen door gushing about a new little hole-in-the-wall place downtown that served Greek food. It was called Dianna’s Grocery. Here, you stood in line inside the grocery store part of the establishment, waiting for one of the very few tables in the back room. The “restaurant” opened in 1961, and was unique at the time. It would be a few years before owner Petros Kogiones would open the larger Dianna’s Opaa, and we would follow him there, since the lines weren’t as long. But in 1961, Dianna’s Grocery was pretty much the entire Greek dining scene.
Today, I had something of a flashback to that time. I just moved my mom to a retirement home near me, and to help her recover from selling her house two states away, I’m taking her out to lunch a few times a week. Today, we went Greek—and we both ordered a soup that we first loved all those years ago at Dianna’s—avgolemono—Greek egg lemon soup.
I actually learned how to make this while I was still living at home, and it was the late-night snack with which I sustained myself through college. In college, I made it with water and bouillon cubes, rather than with good chicken broth, but I improved the soup once I was out on my own. For some reason, it fell out of my repertoire—I still ordered it on occasion, but I didn’t make it any more. But today, I decided I need to remedy that. This is a wonderful soup, and while there are some fairly complex recipes available, it can be tremendously easy, depending on how much effort you want to put in. It’s quite tasty even made with bouillon, canned broth works well, or you can start with a chicken and make your own broth. If you make the broth from scratch, you can shred a bit of the chicken and add it to the soup, to make a meal of it. However, it’s dandy without it.
Egg Lemon Soup
4 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup uncooked white rice
2-3 Tbs. lemon juice
Cook the rice in the chicken broth (follow instructions on the rice package). Just before the rice is done, beat the eggs and lemon juice together, until slightly frothy. (The first time you make this, you can start with 2 Tbs. lemon juice at this stage and then adjust upwards, if the soup is not sufficiently tart for your taste.) When rice is done, remove from the heat. Use a ladle to get some of the hot broth out of the pot, and add it to the egg-lemon mixture, whisking constantly. Add another ladle of broth, and continue to whisk. Then pour the now-warm egg-lemon mixture into the pot with the broth and rice, and continue to whisk until it is smooth. Return to the heat for about 2 minutes, until heated through. You should have a very pale yellow, velvety, flavorful soup. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary (never necessary with bouillon, but might be if you made your own broth). Serve and enjoy. Makes roughly 4 servings. Unless you’re a college student.